Sunday, October 15, 2017

In Pursuit of Meaning

470 milliliters.  That was the quantity of blood drawn from my body during a drive conducted at the local church.

3 liters.  That was the amount of blood that my Aunt lost in the days leading up to her death this time last year. 

As the days of the calendar trudged through the end of September, several disconnected thoughts traipsed through my mind.  I wanted to do something ‘meaningful’ on her death anniversary.  Donating blood in the honor of someone dear who had died of hematologic complications – that was, to me, a token of remembrance that would have made her smile.  But after my blood was drawn and the bandage was applied, I asked myself whether I had done enough.  The more complicated question was, how exactly would I define ‘enough?’

I work in the oncology group of a pharmaceutical company.  I have seen videos of metastatic patients – in layman’s terms, patients whose cancer has spread to different parts of their body.  I have wondered if these patients tried to encapsulate their entire lives’ memories, regrets and wishes all into a show reel.  Do they, especially the ones that are on the younger side, experience a sense of desperation?  How do they see their tradeoffs -- work in favor of family or family in favor of friends?  These decisions that they had perceived as the ingredients of a balanced life – do these choices, in retrospect, seem to have resulted in pyrrhic victories?  Or, do they have a satisfied sigh that they had balanced, with the grace of a ballet dancer and the skill of a tightrope walker, the components of their core?  That they had dealt with the surprises of life with equanimity that prepared them for their toughest physical and psychological battle.

Apart from truly old people at the end of their lives, I don’t think many, with the exception of terminally ill patients, would have the ‘luxury’ of an extended introspection, with the finiteness of their lives an immediate reality, not a fact of life.  By the same token, it is these patients that face a tough battle if they start taking sojourns in the dark recesses of their mind.  If they start assessing their life as one that has not been well-lived, it would be akin to an architect looking at his magnum opus and wanting to demolish it in a day and build it from scratch in a week. 

They live on...
The four people whose photographs are a part of my prayer room are my maternal and paternal grandfathers, my grandpa’s brother and my Aunt.  One was 84 and died while in good health, with minimal suffering.  One was 67 when he stepped out of his house, experienced a massive cardiac arrest.  One was 61 when he was involved in a freak car accident, while living for less than an hour in the realization that his end was nigh.  And my Aunt was 49 and was unconscious in the hospital for a week before passing away.  She probably did not know that she, despite her health complications, was going to leave this world.  None of these people had the experience of a patient with a terminal condition who knew roughly how long their final lap was.  But I am certain that all four of them passed away with barely any regrets.  Their lives, some short, others longer, were well lived and they were well loved.  It was because they loved well.  Their love for their family and friends was as unconditional as it was comforting.  They had the grace to acknowledge their foibles, took life seriously but not so seriously that they did not have their share of laughs.  Their innate generosity meant that they gave more than they took.  In essence, in their own authentic ways, they had done enough by the time fate intervened and decided that their time was up.      

I suppose I have my answer there.  Donating blood in my Aunt’s memory is not going to be ‘enough’ per se.  But it is the equivalent of a brick, not an architectural marvel.  It is a series of these little bricks that will help me construct a sturdy monument, a structure that despite when my end comes, be it 49 or 84, is a creation that I would look at with a sense of accomplishment.  In essence, the pursuit of meaning is rendered redundant when the journey is comprised of bits of the actual goal.

***




10/20/17 Update -- I came in second in this week's popular vote.  There was no editor's pick but I was happy to be cited in the week's round-up.  See excerpt below as well as the link:

“One way to keep the reader’s attention is to have a strong central theme, object, or phrase to tie your essay to. If you can signal this theme in your title, it’s even better – like the repetition of sounds and letters in this poem, it will create moments that stick in your reader’s head without you having to be obvious about HEY THIS IS MY THEME WORD. Ram did it this week with numbers, but you can use whatever works for your idea.”

https://yeahwrite.me/writing-challenge-winners-340/

20 comments:

ravishanker sunderam said...

Very well written piece Ram.

By a strange coincidence I was in a very pensive and ultra introspective state of mind today.

Some silly exchange happened as is the wont in whatsapp groups and that pissed me off along with some long pent up feelings of frustration, that I was trying to figure how to mute the group but for some reason the notifications kept coming even though I'd turned it off.

For some reason I felt better that I could keep away from Social Media garbage and by evening decided to talk to two school teachers of mine, one of whom had been widowed recently and I felt better.

But ultimately only you can give yourself peace and my hot temper got the better of me again after dinner and I really thought why not go and punch a hole somewhere and end it all ...after all life's meaningless.

What are we chasing anyway ?

That's when your article arrived.

Ready to hit the sack now...

Anuradha Warrier said...

Nothing is ever 'enough', Ram,but thinking that way only paralyses any mode of action. Something is always better than nothing, and as you noted, each action is a brick; as they say, a drop may not amount to anything, but a deluge of drops makes an ocean.

More power to you for donating blood and actually doing something - your aunt, I'm sure, would have been proud of you.

This article actually explained to me, as none of your others have done, what you mean when you say that you strive to be improve yourself, to be a better person. Kudos to you.

Ram Murali said...

Comment received via Whatsapp...

Excellent article. I think it’s your best yet. Especially loved the brick and architectural marvel analogy. You wrote, "None of these people had the experience of a cancer patient who knew roughly how long their final lap was." Maybe you could have said “patient with a terminal condition” instead of “cancer patient”?

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for taking the time to post a comment despite having a rough day. I am sure that the week ahead will have more pleasant surprises for you. Thank you, once again, for your kind words. Take care.

Anu - thank you for your warm, wonderful words. I smiled at the last two lines because I do remember that I hadn't explained myself that well in the temper article :)

Sai Uncle (the comment via Whatsapp) -- thank you so much. I have edited the write-up to incorporate your suggestion because it is a very valid, thoughtful suggestion. Thanks again!

Viveka parasuram said...

Ram, you are soaring high up because of this article. The picture sums up who you are as a person as it has all the people that have influenced you to be the wonderful person that you are. What a pleasure to know someone like you who walks the talk. Very well done.

Ve said...

You've captivated me through your story! I could feel how deep is your love to your family. I believe they're​proud of you and pray for them may they rest in peace. Well-done, Ram!

Ram Murali said...

Viveka and Ve - thank you so much for your kind words.

newmomontheblock said...

Very well written. You always inspire me and I am sure the people who follow your blog and writing. I think nothing is ever enough. I lost my mom when she was only 48. She was murdered in our own house during an attempted robbery. Went through a few years of guilt of how it could have been prevented if she/ we had done few things on that fateful day. Then came the part about dealing with the grief, I think I shut out all her memories and kind of became incapable of loving anyone as much as I loved her. It was/is sort of a protective mechanism to save me from heartache. But after 15 years after her loss, life has moved on and I think of things that we have missed out, all the important milestones of my life that she was not part of. I feel for my dad who is still trying vainly to get some justice from our Indian legal system. Having said all this, when I see people who have kids with special needs or going through health issues on an ongoing basis or having to see their loved ones suffer through cancer or something like that (coincidentally I work in the Pharma industry as well and mange hem/once clinical trials), I feel like my suffering/pain is nothing. All we can do is live each day to its fullest, focus on things that matter, bring joy and make a difference in other's lives in some or the other way

Ram Murali said...

newmomontheblock - Thank you so much for sharing the details of such an unfortunate, horrifying incident. But it is, in equal parts, moving and inspiring, how you have come to terms with it (esp. as you detail it in the last line of your comment).

Thank you for sharing and for your kind words.

Margaret said...

You have given food for thought. Like you, I have thought about the way loved ones have passed and reflected on lives well lived. I'm sorry for your loss.

Rowan Grigsby said...

I love how you used "impersonal" numbers to anchor a very personal essay. The reiteration of the counting theme really works here to pull the reader through what could otherwise be emotionally exhausting.

Ram Murali said...

Margaret and Rowan - thank you for your kind words.

Viveka parasuram said...

Congrats Ram...You totally deserve it :)

ravishanker sunderam said...

Newmomontheblock : Grateful to you for sharing.

Viveka : Anen !

Anusha said...

Congratulations! I'm so glad you're enjoying Yeah Write. I haven't been active on the grids lately.
I wanted to say this was a meaningful essay, but even I'm ashamed of this terrible pun.

Ram Murali said...

Viveka and Ravishanker - thanks a lot for your continued encouragement.

Anusha - thank you for your kind comment. Yes, I have been enjoying reading the articles on YeahWrite as much as I do posting on the grid. When the writing also resonates with a few people that I don't know personally at all, that's an added bonus. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Ram

I enjoyed this piece a lot...because I know all the people you have written about here and also know you and your connection with them. I can see how much introspection has gone into producing this piece. I liked your last sentence especially. Nicely sums up your feelings...

On the lighter side, I had to look up "pyrrhic" victory. It's fun to learn from anyone's writing but sometimes I feel words like "nigh" detracts from the flow. Kind of stands out...

I have a feeling the experience of someone nearing their end is dramatized in people's minds more than what it is in reality. It is not about regret or looking back even I feel. May be the lucky ones who know for sure they are dying...have time to reflect on their life. Many times I feel it must be a very earthy human feeling of not wanting the pain they are in, fear of the unknown or sadness over leaving the loved ones.

As far as finding meaning in things we do, that too like you said is in the small details of life. When you walk on the road, when someone smiles at you with warmth, there it is they have spread cheer in this world where there is so much pain. In contrast to some people who are afraid to even return your smile! :) Starting from those small things, it is possible to find meaning in things we do...living sincerely and genuinely...of course life situations sometimes force us to be otherwise...but where possible is what I mean.

Enjoy the journey!

Anu




Ram Murali said...

Nu thai, thank you so much for your kind words. Really nice to see your detailed comment on the blog! Romba peruma paduthittaeL :)

newmomontheblock said...

I read this article and thought you might like it. https://cupofjo.com/2017/06/nina-riggs-husband-john-duberstein-on-grief/

I have not read the book, " The Bright Hour" yet and hope to read it sometime soon

Ram Murali said...

Newmomontheblock -- thank you so much for the link. Will check it out.